Sunday 17 December 2017

Coutinho move turns ugly: Tempers flare at Anfield as Brazilian star demands transfer

'Edwards had already told Coutinho in Munich last week there was no possibility he would leave this summer'
'Edwards had already told Coutinho in Munich last week there was no possibility he would leave this summer'

James Ducker

Liverpool face three weeks of turmoil in their efforts to retain Philippe Coutinho after the playmaker handed in a transfer request and the battle for his services turned ugly.

With Barcelona preparing a third bid for the Brazilian, Coutinho made a formal appeal to be sold, which was promptly rejected by the Anfield hierarchy.

Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, had earlier issued a statement reiterating that Coutinho would not leave in this transfer window, a sentiment underlined after the 25-year-old emailed the club’s director of football, Michael Edwards, informing him he wished to leave.

Edwards had already told Coutinho (pictured) in Munich last week there was no possibility he would leave this summer.

Coincidentally, Coutinho has not played since Liverpool returned from the pre-season tour of Germany and misses today’s trip to Watford with a sore back. He is also unlikely to face Hoffenheim in the Champions League qualifier on Tuesday.

It was an extraordinary three hours at Anfield yesterday, the FSG statement timed to precede Jurgen Klopp’s pre-match briefing ahead of the Premier League opener.

No sooner had manager Klopp suggested that Coutinho was not the type of character to agitate for a move than reports emerged on television that a transfer request had been submitted.

At that stage, Liverpool said they had not received any such request, but it did subsequently land in Edwards’ inbox.

Inflammatory comments attributed to a “family friend” of Coutinho were also reported by Sky Sports News, in which Liverpool were accused of refusing to sanction an “amicable” sale.

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“Philippe has tried very hard to find an amicable solution to the situation, but to no avail,” it read. “He has tremendous love for the club and its fans, but like Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez have pointed out, Liverpool does not let its players leave on amicable terms.”

Despite the tension, Liverpool president Michael Gordon and principal owner John W Henry are prepared to stand their ground, just as they did when Barcelona courted Suarez in 2013.

“We wish to offer clarity as regards our position,” read the statement on Liverpool’s website yesterday morning. “The club’s definitive stance is that no offers for Philippe will be considered and he will remain a member of Liverpool FC when the summer window closes.”

Klopp went further and explained that the timing of Barcelona’s bids of £72m and £90m made it impossible for Coutinho to leave at this stage of the transfer window. There is no time for the club to find an adequate replacement, and Liverpool would much prefer a sulking player for a month than a demoralised fanbase and weakened team for the next nine months.

“The only thing I can say about this is that in life everything is about timing – whichever club asks early enough,” said Klopp.

It’s like how we do it. If we ask early enough, we try to do it. If you ask early enough, you can either switch the plan or whatever. But you cannot come up close to the start of the season. The club is bigger than anybody. That is the most important thing.

“It’s about doing it in the right moment. It’s how we do it when we want to bring players in. It is about timing. Maybe everybody has a price – in the right moment. In the wrong moment? No price.”

Liverpool informed Coutinho and his representatives that they expect him to behave professionally and show respect to the supporters and his team-mates.

There is disappointment at Anfield that the transfer request was made on the eve of a new campaign, and a day that should have been focused on what Liverpool can achieve this season.

The club, however, know the matter is far from closed. Barcelona are believed to be ready to go beyond £100m in their next bid, and now the charade that Coutinho will not push for a move has been exposed there are sure to be more attempts to force Liverpool into a U-turn before the window closes on August 31.

The player is thought to be worried the Barcelona bid is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that may not come again next summer, regardless of how well he performs at Anfield. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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